In 1947 silvery pieces of wreckage were found in a field near Roswell, New Mexico. They were quickly confiscated by personnel from the Roswell Army Air Field base and a rumour that an alien spacecraft had crash landed soon spread. But with little evidence the story didn’t go far until 30 years after the event when a military officer involved in the recovery claimed there had been a cover-up. Fuel was added to the fire when another witness stated a further ten years later that he had seen bodies carried away from the site and autopsies undertaken. Now the name Roswell became synonymous with UFOs. But both official investigations and those of UFO researchers have shown that the truth was probably far more prosaic. The wreckage was almost certainly from a top secret military balloon, hence the cover-up. Crash test dummies were regularly used by the military, and witnesses probably mixed up memories of seeing these being borne away for examination on other occasions, or of autopsies carried out on personnel killed in military accidents. (New Mexico seems to have been a hotspot for UFO crashes in these times: nine months later a craft supposedly landed near Aztec in the south-west of the state after being shot at by the military, and 16 dead humanoids found near the craft, but again the claims have been substantially debunked.)
Roswell and Aztec may have been a non-events then, but there are other less well-known, unexplained occurrences of possible landings. Here’s one in Te Papa’s photography collection I would like to add to the list:
Laurence Aberhart photographed this strange looking, shiny metal object in Riverton in 1980. I once asked him what it was in order to have a better way of describing the photograph. The title ‘Object, Riverton’ wasn’t very helpful. But the best Laurence could do was agree that it was a ‘shiny, round, metal thing’. Was there really little to see, or was he pretending ignorance? If it is a non-terrestrial craft then clearly it’s of an obsolete saucer model (see my previous blog) and could have been sitting where Aberhart found it for some decades, its inner workings long stripped by locals to sell to scrap metal recyclers. (Or maybe there was a rescue mission to collect the marooned aliens and salvage the mechanics of the craft.) A hatch is visible on its right side, though it’s worth bearing in mind that the craft could be upside down.
The photograph gives little sense of scale: the object could be minute or very large. One can only assume that this framing is deliberate, intended to produce an ambiguity. Does this mean Aberhart did know something but for some reason couldn’t say directly? Or would he have preferred not to know, passing the buck of responsibility back to us? The truth may be out there, but sometimes it’s better (and a lot safer) to just take a photo and get back to the car asap. Maybe this sums up the job of the contemporary photographer in general: rather than face the unknown alone, be society’s scout and explore the perimeters of the known to bring back evidence for the rest of us to ponder and debate.
– Athol McCredie, Curator of Photography
This is no. 3 in my series on UFOs, aliens and outer space related to photographs held in Te Papa’s collections. Other ones include: Alien Power Source; Confusing Circles; Miniature Alien Invaders; Satellites of Love; Getting Close to the Moon; Rabbits on Mars; Aliens: Here Already?; Nostalgia for the Future.